Standardized tests have become a hotly contested topic in the world of education. With many teachers and parents arguing that students spend too much time taking tests and not enough time learning, it may seem insane to suggest that teachers test their students even more. However, that’s exactly what we’re doing.
While standardized tests and other more formal summative assessments may not always be the best for students, quizzes actually have the potential to improve student learning. These low-stakes, more formative assessments encourage students to learn and retain knowledge, while helping teachers better structure instruction in the classroom.
Quizzes Reduce Test Anxiety
How could having students take more quizzes possibly reduce their anxiety? It’s simple. Standardized tests and other summative assessments come with high stakes. Quizzes, on the other hand, come with much lower stakes. They’re less formal and designed to test a smaller set of skills. The more quizzes you give, the less doing poorly on a single quiz will have a negative effect on a student’s grade, lowering the stakes even more. If you give quizzes regularly, eventually students will become so used to taking quizzes that their nervousness will fade. This will also transfer to bigger tests, making students less likely to face anxiety when it comes time to take those high-stakes standardized tests at the end of a unit or the end of the school year.
Quizzes Get Students to Pay Attention in Class
“Is that going to be on the test?” is a question commonly heard in the classroom. While teachers want to encourage a love of learning, many students only focus on learning what they know they’ll be tested on. By regularly bringing quizzes into the classroom, teachers encourage students to pay attention to all of the material in class. Whether you have a regular quiz schedule or randomly give students pop quizzes, they’ll come to realize that all of the material has the potential to make it on to a quiz in the near future.
Quizzes Encourage Students to Study Regularly
When students are only tested on what they know at the end of a unit, during midterms, or finals, they often put off studying until the days before the test. Studies, such as this 2012 UCLA study, have shown that cramming for big tests doesn’t work and could actually have a negative effect. By quizzing students regularly, teachers can eliminate the need for cramming and encourage students to study the material on a regular basis.
Quizzes Help Teachers Focus the Learning
Also when teachers quiz students regularly, students won’t be overwhelmed by the amount of material they need to learn and they won’t have to wonder what they need to study. Instead, teachers can focus the learning on a few key concepts at a time. This will help students maximize their regular studying and give them a chance to build a thorough understanding of each part of a unit.
Quizzes Allow Students to Build Knowledge Gradually
Rather than only testing students on the big picture, quizzes give teachers a chance to test students on the smaller pieces. For example, you can quiz students on individual chapters of a novel to help build understanding of the text chapter by chapter; or while teaching the periodic table, you can quiz students on individual groups of elements or sections of the table rather than requiring them to learn about the whole table at once. This scaffolding of learning and quizzing students at each step helps make sure they have mastered understanding of one part before moving on to the next part.
Quizzes Allow Teachers to Modify and Adjust Instruction
To be most successful, quizzes should be used as a type of formative assessment. This means they’re used to inform teachers and students and help monitor understanding. So if a quiz shows students haven’t mastered a part of a lesson or are having a difficult time with a particular concept, teachers can modify and adjust their instruction to help cover that concept before it’s too late.
Quizzes Can Be Completed and Graded Quickly
Giving students a quiz doesn’t have to take a long time, nor does it require a lot of grading. With online assessment platforms such as Help Teaching’s new Test Room feature teachers can quickly put together an online quiz and schedule a time for students to take it. Once students take the quiz, teachers can see statistics on student results, allowing them to quickly modify and adjust their instruction or share the results with students.
Quizzes Offer More Immediate Feedback
One of the reasons people criticize standardized tests and other larger summative assessments is that the results don’t really help students. By the time students receive the results from the test, they’ve moved on to the next unit or the next class and have already dumped a lot of the information they learned. Quizzes, on the other hand, give students a chance to gain more immediate feedback. Even if a teacher doesn’t adjust instruction based on student performance, individual students know what skills and concepts they had trouble with and can work on improving their understanding before it comes time for the final assessment.
Quizzes Help with Long-Term Retention
Perhaps one of the greatest reasons to give quizzes comes from Dr. Henry L. Roediger, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Roediger argues that it’s not studying and reviewing materials that helps students remember material, it’s actually quizzing them regularly on the material. In a study by Roediger, three different groups were asked to study a series of pictures. One group studied the pictures the entire time. The second group studied the pictures and were quizzed on them once. The third group was quizzed on the pictures every 20 minutes. A week later, the third group still remembered 32 of the 60 original pictures, while the first group only remembered 16.
Quizzes Keep Students’ Minds Sharp
Aristotle once wrote, “exercise in repeatedly recalling a thing strengthens the memory” and that’s exactly what Roediger argues when he encourages teachers to quiz students more. When students study they simply look to a textbook, notes, or other resources for the answers, but when they take quizzes they must retrieve the information from their own brains. This retrieval process helps the information stick in the brain more, keeping students’ minds sharp and improving their long-term memory. This fits with the “if you don’t use it, you lose it” idea that many people have experienced. Quizzing students also helps improve their brain plasticity, keeping their minds sharp and allowing them to regularly create new systems and connections in the brain.
While Roediger and his colleagues who promote Test Enhanced Learning in Classroom (TELC) say that the best quizzes to give students are those with short answer and short essay questions, even multiple-choice, matching, and true/false questions incorporated into quizzes on a regular basis can have a positive effect on students’ learning. The key is that the quizzes are given regularly and that immediate feedback is offered to students.